The Chicago Bears had every reason to feel confident.
The rebuilt, restocked franchise from the Windy City built up a 20-0 lead by the third quarter, showcasing shiny new toy Khalil Mack in the process. Meanwhile, Aaron Rodgers had departed on the medical cart early in the first half with an ominous knee injury. The atmosphere within Lambeau Field had turned dour with the game seemed all but secured for the visiting Bears and an uncertain outlook for the future.
But then the Bears looked under the bed, finding the Boogeyman lying in wait.
Aaron Rodgers is the Boogeyman
Rarely do teams come back from three-possession deficits at any point in the game. More specifically, the Packers had never pulled off the comeback trailing 17 points or more entering the fourth quarter in 107 attempts, according to the Green Bay Press-Gazette’s Rich Ryman. Facing such long odds, it comes as little surprise that many respected voices in football (and some less respected ones) wondered aloud why the team would expose Rodgers after suffering his knee injury.
The answer in retrospect seems clear: Aaron Rodgers is the boogeyman. For the Bears in particular, the two-time MVP has authored so many of their worst nightmares and the mere thought of him returning surely triggered anxiety in many on Chicago’s sideline. The Bears would realize their greatest fears on three consecutive Packers drives.
Even limited by his injured knee, Rodgers conjured up some of the best plays of his career. His first touchdown resulted from a perfectly placed pass to the back corner of the end zone where Geronimo Allison slipped past Kyle Fuller for a spectacular catch. Rodgers rode Davante Adams for the Packers’ next score, connecting first on a 16-yard reception that the wideout turned into a 51-yard catch and run. Adams would showcase his run-after-catch skills again three plays later, hauling in a short pass from Rodgers before juking and diving into the end zone.
One drive latter, Rodgers delivered the dagger. Facing third-and-10 at the Green Bay 25-yard line, the quarterback bought time with his hobbled legs until Randall Cobb found an opening down the middle of the field. After Rodgers delivered the ball to Cobb in stride just past the sticks, the veteran receiver galloped another 64 yards for the equalizer. Mason Crosby’s extra point gave the Packers their first lead of the game, one that would hold until the final whistle.
Rodgers had returned from injury before to pull out a Packers win, perhaps most famously during Week 17 of the 2014 season. That game, a 30-20 victory over the division-rival Detroit Lions, secured the NFC North crown for Green Bay as well as a second league MVP for Rodgers and will go down as one of his gutsiest performances.
Still, the Packers never trailed the Lions in that game, let alone fallen to a 20-0 hole. That deficit, combined with Rodgers incredible second-half production against the Bears Sunday night -- 17 completions on 23 attempts for 273 yards and three touchdowns -- leave little question that Sunday’s comeback will stand alongside the Hail Marys, the last-minute touchdown to steal the NFC North title from the Bears in 2013, and the fake spike against the Miami Dolphins in the pantheon of great moments in the quarterback’s career.
Mostly positive debut for Mike Pettine’s defense
The switch from Dom Capers to Mike Pettine rightfully garnered plenty of attention this offseason, with the latter utilizing new formations and a more streamlined playbook for the Packers’ mostly young defenders. At least those changes formed the crux of the excitement around Green Bay’s new defensive coordinator.
In his first regular-season game with the Packers, Pettine and his defense didn’t disappoint. While some poor tackling crept up throughout the evening along with a few boneheaded plays (most notably Clay Matthews’ roughing-the-passer penalty on the final defensive series), the unit gave up just 16 points to a much-ballyhooed Bears offense that could barely move the ball during the second half.
More specifically, Pettine dialed up some exotic blitzes late in the game to confuse Bears quarterback Mitch Trubisky, accounting for many of his incompletions and the game-sealing strip-sack. Pettine’s defense didn’t give up many long plays, a persistent issue during the final season of the Capers era. Given the youth throughout the unit -- particularly in the secondary where rookies Josh Jackson and Jaire Alexander saw extensive work Sunday -- the performance offers plenty of promise for the future.
Matt Nagy blew the game
While the Packers’ comeback would have never transpired without Rodgers’ heroics, the same holds for Matt Nagy and his disastrous second-half decisions. Early in the game, the Bears’ head coach and offensive play-caller pulled out plenty of interesting looks and plays, including a classic Wing-T formation on Chicago’s first offensive play from scrimmage. Those helped Nagy’s squad jump out to an early lead.
The narrative shifted after halftime. The Bears went with a more conservative approach, contributing to multiple three-and-out situations and field goals rather than touchdowns.
The most egregious example occurred during Chicago’s penultimate possession. Protecting a three-point lead with just over two minutes remaining, Nagy called a pass play on third down rather than lean on a ground attack which had proved successful all drive. When Trubisky’s pass fell incomplete, the Bears headman opted to go for the field goal rather than attempt to convert fourth-and-2 from the Green Bay 14. While Cody Parkey knocked the kick through the uprights, it left Rodgers and the Packers with two timeouts and the 2-minute warning. That, of course, did not play out well for the Bears.
Nagy’s forgettable night won’t necessarily color his Chicago tenure. The responsibilities of a head coach vary greatly from those of an offensive coordinator, and Nagy has plenty of opportunities to learn from the myriad mistakes he committed in his regular-season debut as a headman. Still, few coaches have ever blown such a massive second-half lead, and Nagy pulled it off in his first attempt.